Friday, 12 September 2014

Essen nearing

And with Essen nearing, I've made my first draft of the list of games to look at.

Some interesting stuff like 15 Dias, which is about my old friend the Conde-Duque de Olivares, or a game looking at the logistics of the Normandy Breakout. New stuff from Martin Wallace and Phil Eklund, a rondel microgame, more Polish military history.

And one game that sounds just to strange to be true. The Walled City: Londonderry & Borderlands has you populate villages 'with loyal peasants and nobles who share your view of this new city'. This means: Protestant settlers in Northern Ireland in the 17th century, so a highly contentious part of historyThis might not go down will with (Northern) Irish catholics who understand Londonderry as a Protestant colony. Let's see if the game shows that sensitivity.

I was afraid I would be a bit meh about Essen this year, having been out of the gaming loop so long, but going through the new crop has wet my appetite.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Review: Histoire de la campagne de France. La chute de Napoléon

Histoire de la campagne de France. La chute de Napoléon
Histoire de la campagne de France. La chute de Napoléon by Jean-Joël Bregeon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Possibly the best introduction on the 1814 campaign in France available. Combines:
1. a good overview of the political and military events of the campaign from the French and allied perspective
2. reading list which includes both the major scholarly works as well as the primary sources
3. short extracts from memoirs and letters to bring it all to life.

Because of its reading suggestions, it is also very useful for the whole late Napoleonic period as many books mentioned cover more than just the 1814 campaign.

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Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Review: World War II Glider Assault Tactics

World War II Glider Assault Tactics
World War II Glider Assault Tactics by Gordon L. Rottman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one is about equipment, such as gliders and glider landed heavy weapons; the organization of glider borne units and pilots; and finally an overview of operations. Nothing on planning though and little on lessons learned.

If the Elite series is no longer about elites and the Tactics subseries is no longer about tactics (as Rottman confesses himself in this case), life becomes pretty confusing.

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Review: World War II River Assault Tactics

World War II River Assault Tactics
World War II River Assault Tactics by Gordon L. Rottman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decent Osprey in the tactics series. First part handles the equipment and procedures for bridge building, from rope bridges and rafts to Baileys. Second part handles contested river crossings, both defensive and offensive.

The drawings and pictures are very useful as engineering equipment does not often get so much pictorial attention: it really helped me to see the Bedford folding boat lorry to understand what a bridging column must have looked like.

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Review: Operation Market-Garden 1944 (1): The American Airborne Missions

Operation Market-Garden 1944 (1): The American Airborne Missions
Operation Market-Garden 1944 (1): The American Airborne Missions by Steven J. Zaloga

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the better Ospreys I've read lately. Good narrative, maps used to full strength

A lot of stuff on the German side, which is often lacking in Market Garden books, but since [b:It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, September 1944|98349|It Never Snows in September The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, September 1944|Robert Kershaw||94806] there is no longer any excuse.

Another great boon is the list of planned airborne operations in the summer of 1944.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Review: Quand les Belges se battaient pour Napoléon, 1813-1814

Quand les Belges se battaient pour Napoléon, 1813-1814
Quand les Belges se battaient pour Napoléon, 1813-1814 by Declercq, Jacques

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Although the subject is interesting, this book falls short of what I had hoped it would be: a view on Napoleonic warfare through the eyes of Flemish and Walloon soldiers.

In fact this book is mostly an account of the operations of the 5th Corps of La Grande Armée in 1813 and early 1814. The account even stops when the 5th Corps ceases to exist, while the regiments are incorporated into the 11th Corps in 1814.

There is too little in terms of personal accounts of those involved to really make this book stand out. As an operational study it is however interesting because it follows the corps throughout the 1813 campaign, while in most books on the campaign the focus shifts away every time Napoleon is away.

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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Tell Me: Should I Review For Osprey?

A few weeks ago, Osprey advertised they are seeking bloggers and reviewers that wish to receive Osprey books to review.

I guess I would be qualified (by their not too demanding standards) because I already read lots of Ospreys and have published over a dozen reviews on this blog and commented on a bunch more on Goodreads.  What makes it an extremely tempting offer is that the coming months will see quite a few interesting volumes, from Malplaquet to Quatre Bras and Waterloo (not a very great distance in Euclidian space).

There might be a point of being forced to read books that I wouldn't read otherwise, but I think I could get over that.

The biggest issue is of course whether I can maintain my independent opinion in the face of receiving free books. I would be open about which books I have received for free, of course. But warning your audience is not always enough.

I have been quite critical of some Osprey publications, especially its anglocentrism and I think I would continue to be, but it might dull my edge. In fact, my critical approach might also be a reason for Osprey not to send me any books, but that would be a telling decision on what it seeks to achieve. For that reason, it would be interesting just to try.

But I'd like to know what you think. How do you approach reviews where you know the author has received a free copy? Would it also affect what you think of reviews that were written about books I paid for? And do you think I should let myself in with this at all?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Review: Napoleon: A Political Life

Napoleon: A Political Life
Napoleon: A Political Life by Steven Englund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Epic biography of Napoleon, focussing on his acts as a statesman and on his political philosophy. While acknowledging that his military exploits laid the foundations for Napoleon's fame and political power, Englund argues that his political feats were as impressive and much longer lasting than his military legacy.

Writing about Napoleon's motivations and ideas is extremely difficult as Napoleon has tried so hard to influence his historiography. It also implies judgments on whether Napoleon was a heart a cynical and opportunistic power player or somebody who tried to stick to certain principles. Or whether he changed from one into the other and in which period?

I think Englund has done a great job of separating the wheat from the chaff. This Napoleon is much more interesting than the Corsican Ogre and Napoleon le Grand. This is almost a human being. Even if it's a man of uncommon talent, intelligence and energy. There are weaknesses, errors of judgment, post hoc rationalisations and petty insults enough to balance the scales.

That doesn't mean that an interesting version of Napoleon is more true than other versions. It just rings more true to my vision of how people, even Great Persons, are. That, probably is the great attraction of Napoleon: everybody can find in him the man we long to see.

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Sunday, 1 June 2014

NYR May Update

The NYR was a bit slow this month, although I didn't buy any games, and mostly books I was allowed to buy (ie Napoleonics). The holidays wreaked havoc with my free time early in the month and I was also out with an infection for a couple of days by the end.

I didn't get too much done for The Book. I read the new biography of Blücher and two books by Michael Broers. First his exciting book about armed opposition to Napoleon's empire and then his great book about the empire itself. Add to that a detailed account of the deposition of Louis Bonaparte as King of Holland and the annexation of the Netherlands into the Napoleonic empire and you get an idea of where my interest was headed this month. And I had a very good session with my co-authors last week which inspired me.

Some new acquisitions
I didn't play a lot of board games, as my regular group missed two sessions. I managed a pretty weak game of Imperial and a glorious round of Cuba Libre (a game I hoped to deepen my acquaintance with) plus two fine games of 8 Minute Empire.

Getting distracted by running a demo of the Monsters megagame didn't help of course, even though developments in megagaming are now looking very good! There will be an Operation Market Garden megagame on August 30th, possibly a Monsters game later this year in the Netherlands and maybe even a game in Germany next spring.

Did more than enough blogging, even though I haven't had time to write down all my experiences of the workshop on games in education and the few bits of painting I did.

So all in all, I think I need to kick myself in the ass and get going.

Focus, young padawan!

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Megagames and LARPs: Food for Thought

Two weeks ago I was invited to do a demonstration of a megagame at the PLAY Masterclass by the Dutch Society of Play. The Society of Play aims at increasing the use of games in Dutch education and heritage institutions. The day provided a number of examples of game forms, but also three interesting talks on the subject.

In the following posts I want to go into a few things that I took away from the talks by Morgan Jarl, a Swede with long experience of designing and running games and especially LARPS. His first talks focused on using LARPs for educational purposes. You can find the presentation slides here.

Short aside: it is good  to realise that there is more to LARP than fake pointy ears and foam swords. Especially in Scandinavia there has been a development towards different settings and more emotionally involving story lines. There is an inspiring  collection of examples from Nordic LARPs available online for free.

Megagames and LARP

Although megagames and LARPs are strands of the larger family of ‘real life gaming’ and that these strands can occasionally come very close (because both focus heavily on human interaction) , there are some general distinctions you could make between the two. LARP which lays more emphasis on immersion, collaboration and artistic vision and such comes closer to theatre. Megagames tend more towards hierarchy, decision making and conflict. But as said, some megagames have come closer to mass role playing and some LARPs contain hierarchies and conflicts.

The different levels of immersion in the role might roughly be described in terms of role and character. Players in megagames generally adopt a role like prime minister, general or staff officer while in LARP they more often adopt a character, where players find further motivation in the personal life. Again, many megagames have personal briefings for players, or invest their personage with additional motives during the game, and this is a generalisation.

You can try to add as much character to a game as you can, but that might not work for your purpose because...

Types of games… and gamers

Morgan identified four types of game, whether they were based on a narrative, on immersion, on simulation or on the mechanics. I then realised that this might match players' preferences for types of games. Some people like story telling, others role playing, others want to recreate and still others focus on mastering the rules and winning. 

I'm used to being on the part of the spectrum where you argue between simulation and mechanics, ie where you balance the model between the two or try to find solutions where you can retain as much of both. But one of the problems in many board and miniature wargames is that you spend your effort on that instead of immersion or narrative and it becomes empty, a pure puzzle and in a sense devoid of meaning.

This is probably why LARPs recruit easily from tabletop rpgs and megagames recruit from boardgames and miniature wargames. But both can relate closely to Ameritrash games because they combine these four elements. In can't see a megagame like Operation Market Garden gaining as enthusiastic a response from the board gaming crowd of Shut Up & Sit Down as Watch the Skies! did.

So a good thing in design is thinking about which groups you want to engage and in what way and how to write it accordingly. Do you go for one type or do you try to cater to several groups?

Game structure

As all games have at least a few rules (if only on conduct and setting), each game needs an introduction or briefing. After the game, it is also necessary to have a debriefing, not only to bring all the strands back together, but also to discuss experiences and learning. 

You can do this as one cycle, but there’s also the possibility of using debriefs halfway through the game or more often to bring every player up to the same level of information or to insert new elements into the game. As an alternative you can do this between games, like in a rpg or miniature wargames campaign. But I like the idea of using this halfway feedback loop in a game.

Next up: learning through games…